I am a minister and educator and although I am passionate about religious education, the person I was most afraid to teach was my daughter. I was afraid of emphasizing the wrong things. Of passing on fundamentalism. Of indoctrinating her to a certain way of thinking. Most of all, I was unsure about how to parent from a place of spiritual uncertainty. How do I teach her about faith when, many times, I’m not even sure what I think?!
In my pursuit of resources, I came up woefully short. I am looking forward to utilizing Pete Enns’ curriculum for kids (http://www.peteenns.com/) when she’s a bit older but until then I was at a loss. There didn’t seem to be much out there, from a progressive perspective, geared toward babies and toddlers.
So over the past several months I have been putting together my own curriculum, of sorts, and have listed these items here as a way to share my approach with others who might find it useful.
If you’re an unfundamentalist parent you can’t just search Amazon for “toddler Bibles” and buy the first thing you see. Ideally I wanted something that dealt with the nuance of stories like Noah, and Hagar, and the sacrifice of Isaac. I never found such a thing. But I did find a few that present the stories of the Bible from a more inclusive perspective.
Beautifully illustrated (and not with caucasian characters!!), this Bible ties each story in some way back to Jesus’ impending arrival, or to his unfathomably deep love for all of creation. While I don’t love the appropriation of Hebrew scriptures to Christian interpretation – and, in fact, caution my students against this very thing when I teach Hebrew Bible – it was a tradeoff I was ok making since the message of love and inclusion comes across so strongly. Junia does get interested in this from time-to-time but it’s not one she pics out on her own.
I don’t actually own this one since I have the above Bible, but I’m including it here because I own other of his works for kids (more on those later), and they are wonderful! Desmond Tutu has a way of putting complexities into beautiful yet understandable terms and I’m sure his Bible is no exception.
3). Mystic Bible
This is written by an Australian author and I was only able to find it on Progressivechristianity.org – I don’t know why it’s not more widely distributed. It is a gem! It’s only the story of Jesus, so it’s not a true Bible, but it starts with the angel’s visit to Mary, and ends with Pentecost. Each page is a story, so it’s easily digestible for short attention spans, yet the whole story together could take you from Advent through Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. The stories are told in somewhat mystical prose and the illustrations are engaging. Junia usually asks for “more” when I get done with one story. My only critique is why – oh why! – in such a progressive work of art for kids, would you STILL make Jesus look mostly white? So frustrating!
4). Baby’s Hug-A-Bible (board book)
This one isn’t my favorite but it was the only board book Bible that seemed more on the loving, inclusive side of things. The cover is soft and fuzzy, and each page tells a Bible story. Obviously it’s overly simplified, to fit on the pages of a board book. But board book Bibles are hard to find! I think Junia, at almost two, is getting a little past the age range for this book.
My main concern around teaching Junia Christianity is how to make sure she comes away with an inclusive yet nuanced view of this belief system. I think that starts in large part with how kids view God, which is why I often simply refer to God as Love. These books allow for a broad understand of who or what that Love is, and how we experience Love in the world.
1). God’s Dream (board book) by Desmond Tutu
This is probably my favorite one of all the books I’m reviewing here. Archbishob Tutu has a way with words, and a way with imparting crucial spiritual principles that is both profound and simple. Junia loves the beautiful illustrations, and I love that they represent all ethnicities, genders, and religions. The book isn’t about Christianity, specifically, but it’s about understanding that God’s dream for the world is to love us, so we may love others.
2). Let There be Light (board book) by Desmond Tutu
Based on Genesis 1, this book focuses on the beauty of creation, the perfection of relationship with God, and God’s infinite love for us – rather than telling it from a perspective of sin and brokenness. Since there’s a lot of “hovering over the deep,” the illustrations aren’t as engaging. But I love it for its holistic portrayal of creation.
Ok, the title isn’t the best, but I was looking for a book that explained God from a specifically female perspective. Even the above more progressive selections still usually revert to male pronouns for God. I read them to Junia as gender neutral but once she can start reading for herself, that won’t matter any more! This book picks a handful of stories where God is seen or interpreted as a woman, provides a scripture reference, and then a brief devotional alongside an interpretive picture. For example, Junia really likes the one about the Mother Hen because of the illustration, but the devotion references Luke 13:34 and explains why mother hens do what they do, how your mother might do the same for you, and how God is our mother and protector. Other images are of God giving birth the the world, God as the concerned woman looking for a coin, God as mother eagle, etc.
Part of our “liturgy of the ordinary” is to read a bit from a spiritually-focused book each morning at breakfast. In that rotation are two books I mentioned above: the Mystic Bible, and Heart Talks with Mother God. I also use the below book on the Psalms which I feel are inherently devotional no matter what your age!
This book has a number of simplified Psalms accompanied by illustrations. Although the author still uses masculine language for God, the messages are often of hope, comfort, and love. There are some that talk about sinning and grieving God, so I just kind of amend those. But as a daily devotional it’s decent. Some of the images aren’t that engaging – for example, one page only has a picture of clouds and mountains! – but some of them are really quite well done, and they’re very ethnically inclusive.
Just for you, mom and/or dad!
I’ve also delved a bit into the world of how to parent spiritually. Here are a couple invaluable resources I’ve enjoyed.
Written by a scientist, educator, and professor at Columbia University this book draws on spirituality research, and how to apply that to your parenting. She specifically talks about studies done with children, but she also draws implications to spiritual parenting through her work and research on general spirituality. From a nerdy perspective, it’s fascinating. But from a parenting perspective it’s both encouraging and convicting. As she states, no matter what you believe you probably already are parenting spiritually – and this is crucially important for long-term benefits to your child. She also provides practical tips and resources for how to make spirituality part of your everyday life.
This is literally a list of suggestions for how to specifically bring spirituality into the conversation and practice with young kids. From specific actives you can plan (like crafting a mobile made from leaves as you explore the beauty of creation), to how to infuse the ordinary with mindful spirituality. It’s helpful for thinking about every day experiences in new ways.
So there you have it, my motley collection of progressive parenting tools for babies and toddlers. What other resources have you found to be beneficial?? I’m sure there are more out there, and I’d love to hear about them!
Alexis James Waggoner is a theologian, writer, professor, and founder of The Acropolis Project (http://theacropolisproject.com), an organization dedicated to raising the bar of theological education in communities of faith. She also serves as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves and is passionate about ministering to women in places where they are often marginalized. She has an M.Div from Union Theological Seminary in New York, a husband of 12 years, and a baby named Junia.